We got in the local bus, ready to travel the last 200 km to Azau. The border of Kabardino-Balkaria was heavily guarded, but being in a local bus, nobody asked anything. Probably with a personal car we would have been asked about papers.In the morning we entered the Baksan valley, the way to Elbrus mountain. About 30 km of nice scenery, old wolfram mines and hydroelectric power plants. Nowadays, the mines are closed and the area is very poor.
On the way, our driver was changed by another one, which, in the end, proved to be a cop, by the large gun that he carried beneath his blouse. He was probably checking us visually, as we noticed him staring at us from time to time. We were ok, just some tourist with dollars, willing to climb Elbrus mountain.
The mountains in front of us grew bigger and bigger, and from the distance, we saw the first glaciers. We reached the Seherezade Hotel, the one owned by Pilgrim Tours, at first time in the morning, about 7:00 am. We knew our light package included 2 meals and a night in the hotel, but we preferred to keep that for the down climb. We spent 200 rubles for each of us (6 dollars) to take a shower, to repack the backpacks with the necessary gear for Elbrus and to split to food for the first and second part of the expedition. The room became a big pile of food, clothes and gear.
We left a large sac of things at the hotel, that cost 50 rubles per day (1.6 dollars). It was about 25 kg in weight, just to get an idea. The rest of the things were on us, or in our backpacks. From 35 kg each, we reached about 26-28. Big improvement!
After the shower, we decided to get outside for a picnic, and from there strait to the cable car. This is used to get people to 3800, and it helps you get up quicker. You wouldn’t like all the hot dust at the base of the mountain. It costs 20 dollars per person, you can pay in rubles or in US dollars.
From the Chairlift we went on foot for another hour or so to place the tents. We remembered the cable car ends at 3000, so we decided to camp at 3500-3700. What we didn’t know was that we were extremely wrong: the car ends at Garabashi at 3800. So, our acclimatizing day, at about 3000 m, ended up at 4000-4050, just before Priut hut. Small difference, but without another day on a smaller mountain, it seemed like climbing Mont Blanc in… 2 days. We were ok, at least for that moment…